Roguelike deckbuilder. Two words that will instantly either intrigue you, or send you running for the hills.
That’s what Roguebook is in a nutshell: a roguelike deckbuilding adventure. But throw in easy-to-learn mechanics, an absolutely sumptuous art style and a unique take on exploration, and it’s so much more than your run-of-the-mill card-based battler.
The first time you play Roguebook, you might stumble at the first hurdle. I did; the first boss took me down in mere seconds. I was unprepared and only just getting to grips with the game’s mechanics. But another attempt later and I flew through it with gusto. Roguebook doesn’t hold your hand, but its systems are straightforward enough that with a bit of practice, you can feel like a true card-wielding hero.
Being a roguelike, however, death is part and parcel of the Roguebook experience. You’re supposed to die. Many times. At least in the beginning. Upon dying, your characters will gain experience and you’ll be able to spend ‘pages’ – which you’ll find as you play – on permanent upgrades. Just like any roguelike, then, each run gets easier as you unlock more and more upgrades.
And thanks to Roguebook‘s unique exploration system, no two runs will ever feel the same. You’re presented with a map, made up of hexagonal tiles. But you won’t be able to explore freely in the beginning; with the use of a paintbrush and ink, you’ll need to paint in new areas of the map in order to get where you need to go. Painting in new areas will uncover enemy encounters, treasure, the opportunity to unlock new combat cards, and more. But you can’t just paint in tiles at leisure; you have limited uses of your paintbrush, and small amounts of ink can be gained in combat. It’s unlikely you’ll unlock all of the map, but the more you uncover, the better prepared you’ll be to face the boss.
Combat is the main attraction of Roguebook. You’ll have two characters to fight with, both with their own skills and abilities – and of course, their own cards. You have a limited amount of energy to spend each turn, with each card in your deck having an energy cost. Basic attacks might cost ‘1’ energy, for example, while heavier attacks will cost more.
But succeeding in battle here isn’t just a case of laying down attack after attack. There’s a lot of forward-thinking and planning involved. An icon above your enemies’ heads will show you what they’re planning to do next turn. Are they planning to block? Then you should deal as much damage now, while you have the chance. Are they planning to attack? You need to prepare, by attempting to block as much of that incoming damage as possible.
The cards you’re dealt in any turn are random, however, so you won’t always be able to perfectly respond to an enemy’s plans. But chances are you’ll be able to mitigate some incoming damage. Knowing exactly what your enemy is planning to do adds a really nice layer of strategy to combat that you don’t often get in standard turn-based battle games. You have all the information you need to succeed, and it’s down to you to use that information in the best way possible.
Bosses, of course, are the most formidable foes you’ll encounter. These are usually big, hulking enemies with huge bars of HP that dwarf yours and any other enemy’s. You’ll need to make sure you’re prepared before you face one. Exploring as much of the map as possible is one way to prepare, as doing so may give you the opportunity to buy and unlock new cards. And having as many useful cards in your deck as possible can really change the tides of war. By exploring, you’ll also unlock character buffs; maybe you’ll pick up an item that means your first hit always inflicts bleed on an enemy, or you’ll always have a small amount of shield on each turn. The more items you have under your belt, the better your chances of success are.
It’s not just Roguebook‘s gameplay that shines, either. It looks absolutely sublime; its world is brought to life with hand-drawn animation that looks like it could be taken from a book of fairy tales. Character and enemy designs, too, pop off the screen; there’s a huge number of enemy types waiting to be encountered, and each one is beautifully designed. They might be absolutely kicking your ass, but you can still admire how great they look.
Like other great roguelikes, the more of Roguebook you play, the more you want to play. Each death is simply a nudge to continue; to assess your strategy and try something new. Exploring the game’s world is a joy, and combat is easy to get to grips with while still being deep and engaging. There’s a lot to love here, all wrapped up in a package of sumptuous art.
Roguebook Review: GameSpew’s Score